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Reviews: What About Formats and Fees?

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by Linda Carlson, Staff Reporter, IBPA Independent

Photo of Linda Carlson

Linda Carlson

The number of publications that publish book reviews has declined from even five years ago, and reviews that do get published are generally shorter now, as well as more likely to be syndicated in hundreds of papers. The result? It’s harder and harder to get a title reviewed. What to Do About Reviews (and Other Media Coverage) in last month’s Independent featured reports from IBPA members about how they are pursuing other kinds of coverage, including feature stories, blog posts, and reviews at online retailers’ sites.

The reports that follow show that some independent publishers are also finding ways to reduce review copy costs and increase the size and diversity of their audiences for reviews by using PDFs and NetGalley, and some are using fee-based review programs.

Format Choices and Consequences

More media now accept digital editions as review copies. But the publishers I interviewed agreed that the most prestigious publications are likely to prefer paper, that older reviewers and reviewers for academic journals are too, and that print-on-paper copies are also preferred when a book’s physical format is one of its important features.

Younger reviewers, those covering less conventional topics, and bloggers are more likely to want digital copies.

To provide those digital copies, some publishers email PDFs, often with the digital equivalent of watermarks in an attempt to reduce piracy. Others make their titles available through NetGalley, the company created by Firebrand Technologies (a publishing software developer that handles such tasks as metadata distribution) and Rosetta Solutions, Inc. (which automates the production and distribution of publications).

Through NetGalley, reviewers, media people, librarians, booksellers, bloggers, and educators can apply to receive digital galleys that publishers have made available. Reviewers do not pay to participate in NetGalley, but they are vetted by its staff. Publishers can further limit who can get galleys for each title, and they can also make galleys available to reviewers only by personal invitations, offered with a NetGalley widget.

The ability to limit recipients of review copies is important to publishers such as Lee & Lowe in New York City. Hannah Ehrlich, its marketing and publicity manager, describes the quality of reviews by NetGalley participants as “very varied.”

“There are certainly very professional bloggers whose reviews are thoughtful and well written,” she says, “but there are also some who seem to be on NetGalley for free books—reviewers we probably would not approach ourselves.” Since NetGalley gives publishers complete control, she adds, “we tend to accept review copy requests only from those whose reviews we believe would benefit the book.”

Kate Siegel Bandos

Talking about today’s many online reviewers, Kate Bandos of KSB Promotions notes that “some do a very good job, but many just use the text from your press release or the back cover and then want additional books to use as giveaways. Publishers could give away a whole printing if they sent books to everyone who asks.”< At Bold Strokes Books in Valley Falls, NY, which publishes LGBTQ fiction, president Len Barot reports that review requests have at least tripled since its move to NetGalley last July. He says he is “very impressed with the exposure” Bold Strokes is now receiving. His estimate is that about half the NetGalley requests come from bloggers and the other half from a combination of librarians, booksellers, and media professionals.

Even reviewers not participating in NetGalley are demonstrating a preference for PDFs instead of print copies, “especially many of the librarians,” says Barot, who believes they like to circulate galleys via interest groups.

At Passporter Press in Ann Arbor, MI, where NetGalley is being considered, Dave Marx says such a service might help the company reach the growing population of amateur reviewers and bloggers as well as librarians, journalists, broadcast producers, and the occasional indie bookseller.

At this time, though, Passporter sends a PDF only when a media person needs a book immediately, in part because format is such an important feature of its travel guides.

Lerner Publishing Group, based in Minneapolis, distributes electronic galleys only through NetGalley. “We appreciate the security offered by NetGalley’s system,” says publicist Elizabeth Dingmann, who adds that using NetGalley increases the company’s visibility and reduces its costs. The service “allows us to get our books to reviewers, bloggers, librarians, booksellers, and educators in a central online location. Trying to reach that many people with hard copies would be cost-prohibitive,” she explains.

Dingmann also notes that blog coverage especially has increased since Lerner began using electronic galleys and NetGalley. “The electronic galleys haven’t replaced hard review copies, particularly not with major review journals, but they do allow us to broaden our reach,” she reports, offering an example: “I’d say that before we started using NetGalley we would have considered five blog posts on a given title a great success; with NetGalley, it’s not unusual to get 20 or more for our most popular titles.”

Preferences for Paper

Troy Parfitt at Western Hemisphere Press in St. John, New Brunswick, questions whether NetGalley has helped it reduce shipping costs. Last year, for the launch of Why China Will Never Rule the World, the press sent out about 195 review copies.

In about half of those instances, Parfitt says, “we offered the choice of a PDF or Kindle download via netgalley.com or the paperback edition.”

About 97 percent of responding reviewers wanted the paperback, including people from larger media such as CNN. Seven or eight requested the digital edition directly from NetGalley.

When he sent out the paperbacks, Parfitt emailed reviewers, reminding them that they didn’t have to wait for delivery—they could read the digital edition immediately. “Two said they had started to read the PDF, but would wait until the hard copy arrived because reading from their computer hurt their eyes. Several said they preferred paper, with some mentioning that made it easier to take notes,” he reports.

Catherine Steen, marketing manager at Creative Publishing International in Gloucester, MA, believes that PDFs may not adequately showcase its titles, which are craft and quilting books in full color.  “When we do send a digital copy, it’s usually a PDF file, along with a press kit and the book’s data sheet,” she notes.

“I like each reviewer to have a physical copy for passing around, with the chance that others will see the book,” says Jeff Minard, general manager at William Carey Library, the publishing unit of the U.S. Center for World Mission, based in Pasadena. “Our reviews are done by professors, teachers, or seminary or university deans,” he explains, “and although they might accept a PDF, I believe that a reviewer sees endorsements and cover copy more easily in a physical book.”

The reviewer for a regional publication agrees. Cindy Bellinger has reviewed books for Enchantment, a 32-page print monthly sent to 125,000 customers of the New Mexico Rural Electric Co-op, for six years, and she previously reviewed for regional and national publications. “I prefer print,” she says, “because I take the whole book into consideration, because book design really is an integral part of a book. I signed up to review electronic proofs at NetGalley, but I truly hate reading long tracts on the screen.”

What Lisa Paul calls swag is yet another reason to stick with bound galleys. With many reviewers, “just putting your book in an envelope is not enough,” says the publisher, at Lands Atlantic Publishing in Potomac, MD. “Publishers try to have swag that goes with the cover or book theme. With our book The Iron Quill, we sent a green feather that matched the cover photo. One publisher sent purple nail polish because the girl on a book’s cover is wearing a purple dress!”

Linda Carlson (lindacarlson.com) writes from Seattle, where she also prefers paper galleys.

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